||Schofield Hall 218|
||Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004|
UW-Eau Claire Students, City Police Work
Together on Service-Learning Project
MAILED: June 29, 1998|
Eau Claire police sensed that their shift to a community oriented policing philosophy was helping reduce problems such as loud parties and vandalism in some neighborhoods. What they were missing were the statistics to prove their success and justify expanding COP efforts.
That's when a team of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students stepped in and got the numbers officers needed in time to take their case to the Eau Claire City Council this spring.
"We'd still be out surveying people if the students hadn't gone door-to-door for us," said Sgt. Alan Lowry, who supervises the Eau Claire Police Department's COP officers. "They were a tremendous help to us. We wouldn't hesitate to use them again if we had another big project. We were very satisfied."
Seventeen student members of the business fraternity Beta Upsilon Sigma distributed, collected and analyzed 150 surveys from Eau Claire's lower west side neighborhood and another 100 surveys from the north riverfront neighborhood. Both areas had a higher number of problems such as vandalism, loitering and theft than other neighborhoods prior to the 1996 implementation of COP, Lowry said.
After analyzing the data, students compiled the information in a written report and presented their findings to police administrators, Lowry said. The department then shared the information with City Council members.
The experience was eye-opening for students because they heard first hand what some city residents think of sharing their neighborhoods with them, said Jamie Lacke, a freshman accounting major from Edgar who co-led the student team with Hilary Hart, a junior accounting major from Wittenberg.
"Some of the people were surprised to hear that we gave up our Saturday to help because many of them said they thought the students were mostly drunks and punks," Lacke said. "Their comments made us think about how we behave and that maybe we should act our age many of us had never realized how many people other than college students live on those streets. It was good for us and good for them to see us out doing something good for the community. I think it helped them realize we're not all bad."
"University students learned more about the community in which they live and the police department learned about the skills and talents university students can bring to a project," Erik Rotvold, acting service-learning coordinator, said of the project benefits.
Each UW-Eau Claire student participant committed a minimum of 15 hours to the project, partially fulfilling the university's requirement that students participate in 30 hours of community service prior to graduation.
With the data collected by students helping expand a policing philosophy that reduces problems in the city, students truly have done the community a service through their efforts, Lowry said. COP supporters would like to have additional officers committed to the program, moving to various neighborhoods on an as-needed basis, he said.
It was helpful for students to learn about the COP program and about police work in general, Lacke said, noting that it was interesting to her to hear what students and non-students think of Eau Claire police. And, she said, it was rewarding to be able to explain COP to people in the neighborhoods who weren't familiar with it.
The COP philosophy is designed to better integrate officers into specific neighborhoods, Lowry said. Officers in these areas do things such as attend neighborhood association meetings, take time to get to know the residents, and get out of their cars to walk the streets.
"The idea of COP is that it's not us telling them what the problems are but them telling us what the problems are, and then the police and public working together to resolve the issues," Lowry said. "It's a matter of sharing the responsibility for solving problems in the neighborhood."
It was particularly appropriate that students helped gather information to evaluate the program since in the west side area the students and permanent residents living side-by-side is often the basis of complaints, Lowry said. Some 60-70 percent of residents in that neighborhood are students, he said, noting that noise complaints and alcohol-related problems are more typical there than elsewhere.
Officers have tried to monitor the COP's success with informal interviews throughout the two years it's been in existence, but this is the first formal evaluation of the program.
"After two years, it was time to re-discuss the issue with neighbors on a formal basis," Lowry said. "We wanted to know what they thought about what we were doing and whether they thought it was having an impact on their neighborhood. But we simply don't have the manpower to do a survey. It would have taken us all summer. So the university students and police working together was a match made in heaven as far as I'm concerned."
The students' findings were shared with the COP officers, and they will refine some of their strategies as a result of some comments, Lowry said. The report mostly confirmed what the officers already believed that the COP program should be continued and expanded, he said.
"Most people surveyed knew about us and a large number of them supported us and our actions," Lowry said, noting that 95 percent of those surveyed in the riverfront area were familiar with the program and 80 percent in the west side neighborhood knew about COP. "Most of those with a negative feeling toward us are probably on the fringe of violating laws anyway."
Since the COP initiative began there have been fewer reports of crimes such as vandalism but increased reports of problems such as disorderly conduct, Lowry said. With officers based in the neighborhoods, they are more apt to be on the scene of fights or other disturbances that may have gone unreported in the past, he said.
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: June 29, 1998